(LAHAINA, Hawaii) — Lani Williams and her mother, Sincerity Mirkovich, have lived in the historic town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui for most of their lives.
Last week, as wildfires began to ravage their beloved town, the mother-daughter duo jumped in their car to escape.
“Embers are already falling down on us,” Williams told “Good Morning America,” describing the chaotic evacuation scene. “So we get [my mom] in the car and then, already, traffic is at like a standstill.”
She continued, “Then we see another fire on the side of us, a whole house. We’re in the car and a whole tree is on fire, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to die.'”
Hawaii officials say the wildfires on Maui that Williams and Mirkovich were trying to escape have become the deadliest natural disaster in state history. Over 100 people have been confirmed dead, with even more missing.
Williams and her mom, who goes by Noni, determined the only way out of the fires’ path was to get out of their car and climb over a nearby seawall, into the ocean water.
That escape route though proved too difficult as Mirkovich has trouble walking and uses a walker for assistance.
As Williams and Mirkovich contemplated what to do, they said a man, a complete stranger, came to their aid.
The man, later identified as Benny Reinicke, told Mirkovich to lean on his back so he could carry her over the seawall and into the water, according to Williams.
“He’s like, ‘Trust me. Trust me. I promise. I got you,’ and he did,” Williams recalled. “He said, ‘Auntie, put your weight on me. I got you.'”
Reinicke carried Mirkovich on his back over the seawall, and then stayed with her and her daughter in the ocean water for over eight hours as they waited for the fires to subside.
“I just kept thinking to myself, like, this is a young, healthy guy, that he could have just left. He could have swam around to safety,” Williams said. “But he didn’t. He stayed with us the whole entire time and made sure that all of us were safe.”
After they made it out of the ocean and to safety, Williams and Mirkovich lost touch with Reinicke.
“GMA” brought the three of them together this week for the first time since their life-threatening first meeting.
“Auntie wouldn’t have made it without you. I wouldn’t have made it, bebe,” Mirkovich said to Reinicke as they hugged, later adding, “I was scared.”
Reinicke said he had no hesitation when it came to helping save Mirkovich and Williams.
“There’s no way morally I could just walk past that and just save myself, you know,” he said. “It’s just not hard. It’s just the way my algorithm is in my head is. No way.”
As she thanked the man who saved her life and her mother’s, Williams told Reinicke that he is now part of their ohana, a Hawaiian term that means family.
“We love you,” she said.
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